When the email notifying me that my grader had submitted feedback for my first MEE practice essay arrived, I was eager to see what they had to say. I felt good about the subject and thought I had a reasonable handle on the formatting.
I scored a measly 48%. I was shocked and confused.
I skimmed the feedback and then I read the model answers for the essay. I was dismayed: the models were comprehensive and elegant. By comparison, mine was clunky with large knowledge gaps. I couldn’t imagine going from that dismay to test ready within mere months. I put the essay away and moved on to another subject.
I did everything wrong after that first practice essay by not taking the time to properly review model answers. As my test prep went forward, I implemented new routines so that by the time I took the bar, I was confident and prepared to tackle the essays. Receiving feedback from graders is valuable, but self-evaluation will prepare you in a more meaningful way. Do not get hung up on the scores you get. Focus instead on making measurable progress.
Many states release model answers for each essay. The slog of writing multiple practice essays each week can leave you looking for shortcuts in your test prep. It can be tempting to give the model answers only a superficial read after you draft yours, but taking the time to really work through the model answers will make all the difference in your score. Glossing over the writing process is not where you want to conserve time. You will fare better on test day after you’ve written and self-evaluated as many essays as you possibly can.
Do your best to work closed book and within the allotted time for your essay. The MPT essays need to be done within 90 minutes and the MEE essays need to be done within 30 minutes.
As your writing journey progresses, here are some things to keep in mind:
1. The model essays are just that: the models.
The model answers chosen by the states are usually outstanding, but they far exceed what you actually need to pass the bar. Relying on the models as benchmarks for how you should be doing is a recipe for overwhelm and failure. Also note that the model answers can have mistakes. They are written by test takers, not by the bar examiners, so do not rely on them for perfect rule statements.
2. It is not enough to just read the model answers.
Download both of the model answers provided. As you read them, make notes about the issues that both answers contain. You can highlight these or make a chart – develop a system that works for you.
Now read your own essay again. Look for those same issues in yours. If you failed to include any of the issues that both of the other essays covered, you need to take the time to understand why the other essays incorporated the issue. Often failing to include the issues will happen because you didn’t know the law well enough to catch them. When this happens, you should review the elements of the rule until you know them cold.
Do you see issues that you covered, but the model answer did not? This is an area where you may have wasted time. The bar examiners did not think they were important enough to include in their chosen answers, so it is unlikely you would gain points for including them.
Now that you have reviewed the issues, make note of the overlapping facts in the model answers and then make sure you included those same facts. If you didn’t, spend time reviewing the fact pattern again so that you can see how the facts support your conclusion.
If you are working on a performance test, pay close attention to how the model answers are structured. Check to see that you followed the directions the same way. If your answer is structured differently, this is a sign that you need to take more care reading through the task memo. Following those instructions with precision is the key to succeeding. Sometimes students will include a statement of the facts when the instructions say to exclude this. This sacrifices points and time.
3. Rewriting your essays may be the most important thing you will do.
Many people dread this step, but this is where you can make the most improvement. Rewriting forces you to focus on any weak spots and it builds stamina. Doing it frequently will get you prepared for the grueling hours of test day writing. When you are done reviewing and comparing the model answers, applying what you learned from them to a new draft of your answer will help you develop a sense of the relationship between your rule statements and fact analysis.
If your rule statements are weak, rewriting them will help you review the law. Look at the notes you made about the overlapping issues and facts in the model answers. Now review your essay. Remove any extraneous facts and issues and spend time integrating the issues you missed.
You do not need to rewrite your entire essay. You will want to go through this process for many essays, so prioritize the sections where you found yourself struggling the most. Rewrite those sections, and take extra care to address each of the issues that overlapped in the model answers.
Now that you have rewritten the relevant issues, it is time to look at your overall essay structure. Make sure you maintained a strict IRAC/CRAC format and used appropriate headers and sub-headers. If you did not, take the time to make those changes too.
Dedicate yourself to improving your essays through rewriting – I promise you will thank yourself in July or February.